Approximately 500,000 Americans undergo back surgery to relieve their pain every year, and according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHTQ), this costs approximately $11 billion annually. The worst part — it turns out only 5 percent of these people actually need back surgery. And for many folks — the pain just ends up coming back.
So why are we spending so much money on back surgery when the majority of people don’t actually need it?
First of all, back pain is not fun. It can be excruciating, debilitating, and can have a significant impact on your life and happiness. If you’re told surgery will fix your problem (and it often does take your pain away in the short-term), why wouldn’t you choose this option?
Well, if you knew the facts, you might be willing to hold off on a surgical “quick fix” and investigate options that are less risky. The research shows over and over that 80% of the population suffers from “non-specific low back pain,” meaning, it’s not from something structural like a tumor, broken bone, or deformity. The research also shows that non-specific low back pain does NOT benefit from surgery! The better solution for the majority of back pain sufferers is correctly prescribed movement followed by regular exercise to maintain your strength (especially your core) and postural endurance.
So again, why are we spending so much money on back surgery when the research and data clearly show it’s not the best course of action for the majority of back pain sufferers?
There are a few reasons. First, most of the time we just don’t know any better.
Back pain is typically diagnosed with imaging (X Rays and MRI’s). Although these highly specific tests are critically beneficial after a major trauma or accident, or when you suspect something more serious is going on (like a tumor or broken bone), they are not the best way to diagnose non-specific low back pain. That’s because these tests are designed to show you everything – including all the normal, age-related changes that occur in your spine such as arthritis, degenerative discs, stenosis, and even bulging discs.
The truth is that 60-80% of people walk around with these findings in their spine all the time and have absolutely zero pain.
That means that your back pain is likely coming from something else, typically, a bad movement pattern or habit. Poor posture and movement habits can exacerbate a bulging disc or stenosis, and this is where the confusion comes in. Surgically “fixing” your bulging disc or stenosis will not correct your poor habits. That’s why so many people suffering from back pain get surgery only to find their pain comes back several months or years later. What you need to do is find the true cause of your low back pain and attempt to address that first before ever considering something like surgery.
The second reason back surgery is so common and over-prescribed is because it does a great job at taking pain away quickly where conservative therapy often fails. Conservative therapy really can help you get rid of back pain and keep it gone – but it has to be done correctly. And sadly, there are many well-meaning therapists, trainers, and movement professionals out there that lack the expert knowledge to get it right. If you don’t get the correct conservative treatment for your back pain, you’ll assume it didn’t work, and will be more apt to get surgery.
So how do you know you’re getting correct and effective conservative treatment? Quite simply, it will work, and fairly quickly!
Remember, 80% of all low back pain responds to the right conservative treatment. You’ll notice obvious improvement in your back pain within 2 weeks. If you fall into the 20% where conservative treatment doesn’t work as well, it will be pretty obvious to a back pain expert almost immediately. In our office, for example, we have special movement screens and tests that we perform on everyone to determine if you’re in the 80% or the 20%. If you fall into the 20%, we know right away and can send you to your doctor, or a surgeon, for one of those highly specific tests to see what’s really going on.
The take home point is this: If you currently suffer from on and off back pain, have tried every treatment you can think of, and are just tired of it because it really hurts – I completely understand why back surgery would be an attractive option for you right now.
But please consider the facts and research first before you make the decision to go under the knife. Back surgery has its risks, and there is no going back from the unimaginable happening. If you have back pain that you’re ready to solve for good — sign up for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with one of our specialists today!